Brand Consultants will invariably want to conduct a brand audit as one of the first steps in a branding project. But clients may wonder if it’s worth the effort and expense. After all, don’t clients understand their own brand and their competitor brands better than anyone else? Some of that may be true. But it is an outside objective perspective that can reveal insights overlooked or not even considered. This is why brand consultants advocate the value of what can be learned from a brand audit.
What Constitutes a Brand Audit?
Brand audits come in different shapes and sizes depending on the overall branding objectives, nature of the business, competitive environment, and other key factors. A brand audit could include some, all, or other types of audits listed below.
- Corporate communication and marketing print materials
- Advertising, PR, promotions
- Events and tradeshows
- Photo audit of facilities and signage
- In-store product displays
- Review brand standards and branding principles
- Web branding, navigation, and content organization
- Category branding practices and trends
- Direct competitor branding
- Indirect competitor branding
- Pace-setting branding
What Can Be Learned From a Brand Audit?
Each different type of brand audit will yield a different kind of insight. But there are a few that are essential to a rebranding initiative.
There are several reasons to conduct an audit of your current brand practices. The most obvious one is to understand the breadth of applications. A new branding system needs to be brand-reinforcing and distinctive. But in pragmatic terms it needs to have the ability to flex across the full range of applications. Retail has, of course, its own challenges with signage and facility adaptation. Corporate programs may need the ability to adjust to a subsidiaries and cobranding situations. Products will have to meet the physical and practical needs across product lines. A self-examination audit will reveal the degree to which the brand will need to adapt. Plus an audit of your current applications will help in planning what and when applications will need to change in the implementation phase.
Understanding what competitors are doing is more than simply cataloguing logos. That’s important to ensure distinction certainly. But what is equally important is to understand what competitors are messaging because that will reflect their market positioning. And competitors are more than just your obvious direct ones. It’s critical to understand those competitors who may be vying for your customer share of mind by providing an alternative to what you do or provide. And these may be outside what you would normally consider to be your competitors of today. They could very well be your competitors of tomorrow. You can’t predict the future, but you should plan for some kind of change in market dynamics.
Understanding the category is more than simply doing an audit of your competitors. Category trends may reveal changes in the market place that you will need to adjust to. If mergers and acquisitions are active in the category, that is likely signaling diversification and different segmentation strategies. That could have business as well as branding considerations. Category trends could also signal change in customer attitudes and expectations that’s driving a market response. And then there may be cases where something has occured that is eroding customer confidence in the entire category (banking being a classic example).
A brand audit should be expanded to what’s going on outside your category. That can provide insights into other industries that have grown as a result of disruptors, innovation, or other pace-setting marketers. “Cross-fertilization” of marketing and branding ideas can be invaluable in looking at the potential of your own brand. It’s interesting how different industries share similar issues and challenges. Taking advantage of how those are overcome can be valuable to your own business.
Planning Your Brand Audit
A brand audit is an essential step in any branding program. But the scope needs to be tailored to what the overall branding objectives are and the realities of what implementation will look like. Resist minimizing the brand audit to simply collecting marketing materials and competitor logos. There is so much more to learn. And what you learn could provide your brand with a competitive advantage.